There is no time like the present—especially when you want to purchase a pet insurance policy for your dog or cat. While injuries, illness, and disease may be far from your mind during your pet’s early years, disaster knows no age limit, and pet insurance can help your young pet’s health last well beyond their youth. However, pet insurance does not benefit youngsters exclusively—policy options are available for senior pets, too, although they include more conditions and restrictions.
At every pet life stage, you should be aware of unique and important factors before applying for pet health insurance. We’ve compiled the most significant age-related considerations below.
Insure your new puppy or kitten as soon as possible
The ideal time to purchase a pet insurance policy is as soon as you welcome your pet home. Because young pets are typically healthy and unaffected by degenerative conditions that arise as they age, their coverage is more affordable. By signing up early in their life, you’ll benefit from lower monthly premiums—and although your pet’s monthly rates will increase as they age, your overall cost will generally always be less than a policy bought for an adult pet. When exploring insurance options for your puppy, kitten, or adolescent pet, important factors to consider include:
- Minimum age — Most major pet insurers offer policies that begin as early as 8 weeks of age, although checking with each company to confirm their minimum age for policyholders is important.
- Congenital or hereditary condition coverage — Look for a policy that includes inherited conditions, such as heart defect, hip dysplasia, hernia, or liver shunt, to ensure your young pet will be covered should problems arise as they grow and develop. However, if your puppy or kitten has been previously diagnosed or develops clinical signs during the waiting period—typically 14 to 30 days—the condition will be considered “pre-existing” and ineligible for reimbursement benefits.
- Orthopedic waiting periods — If your pet is a high-risk breed for orthopedic conditions, such as hip dysplasia or a luxating patella, be aware of the orthopedic waiting period, which can range from 30 days to 12 months. Disease signs or diagnosis during this time will prevent coverage for that condition.
- Know your policy needs — When insuring a young pet, distinguishing between accident and illness coverage and optional riders (i.e., packages, plans, or add-ons) for preventive or wellness care is essential. During your pet’s early years, preventive care (e.g., vaccinations, fecal and heartworm testing, microchipping, spay or neuter surgery) will make up the majority of your veterinary costs, and will not be covered by a standard (i.e., accident and illness) policy.
Pet insurance coverage for a young and healthy pet is best viewed as an investment. If your pet stays out of trouble and avoids accidents, you may never need to access their benefits. And, while paying for care without any immediate return may seem frivolous, you should consider that pet insurance, like your own health insurance, protects against the what-ifs and tomorrows—as well as today.
Pets in their prime—insuring your adult dog or cat
If your adult pet is not insured, now is the time to sign up. Pets age more rapidly than people. Most dogs and cats are considered a “senior” by 7 to 10 years of age. During your pet’s adult years, hereditary and congenital conditions may surface, as well as unpredictable conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, thyroid disorder, or intervertebral disc disease (i.e., herniated disc).
Because monthly premiums are based on your pet’s breed, age, medical history, and location, adult pets can be more costly to insure, and their pre-existing conditions are more numerous, meaning the total span of your pet’s coverage is reduced. However, some companies offer an adjustable deductible and annual payout to lower monthly premium costs and offer rewards or a discounted deductible after each claim-free policy year.
Is late always better than never? Insuring the senior pet
Pet health insurance is available for senior pets, although policy options are often more limited. While the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) defines a senior as any dog or cat older than 7 years, insurance companies maintain their own definition of “senior” and may have an age limit—typically between 10 and 14 years of age—on new policy purchases. Age-related coverage limits may also exist for current policyholders (e.g., reduced coverage after your pet turns 14 years old).
Deciding if pet insurance is right for your senior dog or cat requires carefully weighing the options, crunching the numbers, and taking a critical look at your pet’s current health. Factors to consider include:
- Eligibility — Are there new policy age limits?
- Limitations —Will your pet’s coverage change or end after a certain age?
- Life expectancy — Is your pet approaching or exceeding its expected life span? Will your pet be around to use their pet insurance benefits?
- Coverage — Many companies provide reduced coverage or “accident only” policies for pets over a certain age. End-of-life services, such as palliative or hospice care and euthanasia, are rarely covered.
- Anticipated costs — Senior pet premiums are often high, especially if your pet has had previous health issues, and will increase with each policy year. Additionally, senior pet policies may only offer reduced reimbursement rates—meaning you pay more out of pocket.
While the decision to insure your pet is never a wrong or inappropriate choice, the earlier their coverage begins, the more likely you and your pet will receive the maximum benefit. No matter your pet’s chronological age, time spent exploring their insurance options and planning for their future care is always a worthwhile investment.